Continuing Vegetable Sales in Fall and Winter

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist;

While most vegetable growers finish up with fall crops around Thanksgiving, there is potential to produce throughout the fall and winter. There are fall and winter sales potentials with schools, institutions, and restaurants; for CSA’s; and for specialty wholesale markets.

One strategy is using storage to have products available out of season. This has been a common practice on a large wholesale scale with potatoes and apples where large controlled environment storage facilities are used. On a smaller scale, there are many vegetables that can be stored in sheds, cold boxes, or greenhouses as long as products are kept above freezing and have adequate humidity. It should be noted that critical minimum temperatures will vary according to the type of produce.

Probably the easiest vegetables to store are hard shelled winter squash such as butternuts. If kept around 50°F, most of the hard shelled squashes can be kept for at least 3 months, some for over 6 months. Potatoes store best at 45°F in high humidity and sprouting can be a problem for longer storage. Sweet potatoes, once cured, can be stored for months as long as the storage temperature is kept around 60°F. Colder temperatures damage the roots. Onion storage depends on the type but longest storage is just above freezing in dry conditions. Cabbage can also be stored for long periods. The key is to grow storage varieties that are dense. Longest storage is at 32 F° in high humidity. Napa type chinese cabbage also stores well in refrigeration (several months). Other crops successfully stored include carrots, parsnips, rutabegas, and turnips. In fruits, long keeping apple varieties can be stored for months in cool temperatures.

Field storage is another way to extend sales of some vegetables. Root crops such as carrots, parsnips, and beets can be kept for extended periods in the field if kept from freezing with row covers or straw mulch. Certain cabbage varieties can field store into winter if protected from hard freezes with row covers. Green onions and leeks also field store well.

An alternative strategy is to make used of high tunnels, low tunnels, row covers, or a combination to grow cool season crops for fall and winter harvest. Greens crops in the mustard family (mustard, turnip, kale, collard, cress, many asian greens); spinach, chard, and beet greens; and lettuces and endive can be planted in the late summer or fall and harvested repeatedly through the fall and winter in these protected systems without additional heat. Some day neutral strawberries can be harvested into the late fall in high tunnels or low tunnel/row cover systems. The use of row covers can also extend harvest periods for crops such as broccoli where side shoot production can be maintained after main heads are harvested, often through Christmas, and Brussels sprouts where sprout production can be extended into winter.

Of course, there is potential for production of many crops in heated greenhouses. The choice of varieties becomes important for greenhouse production because of the lower light and reduced daylength conditions in fall and winter. Specific greenhouse varieties of crops such as tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers have been developed for fall and winter production.